Thinking About Dragons

Dragons are, of course, as iconic a piece of the game as can be imagined. Hell, they make up half the name. Dragon magazine came up with a few excellent ideas for the scaly beasts: I note with particular fondness Richard Allan Lloyd’s outstanding “filling in the missing dragons” article in Dragon #65, which gives us the evil Yellow, Orange, and Purple dragons (and which was ultimately revised for 2nd edition in Dragon #248).

Richard Allan Lloyd, by the way, was the man who invented the Starmaster play-by-mail game, and I actually worked for him as a game master for the game for a while. Man, I loved that game. But I digress.

There were also the gemstone neutral dragons in The Dragon #37, offered by Arthur W. Collins (Crystal, Topaz, Emerald, Sapphire, Amethyst, Ruby).

I also liked the combat upgrades dragons got in 2E: wing buffets, tail slaps, fear, etc. I play with those in my own campaign, and almost all dragons beyond the very youngest are also able to use magic (and I assume all dragons are able to polymorph themselves at will). I throw in the removal of “dragon subduing” to make them really fearful opponents. I’m also fast and loose with the 3 breath weapons per day rule. I think that makes ’em a little too under-powered.

But one thing just struck me while I was forced to watch “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on television tonight. The dragons had such cool names. The Oriental Fireball. The Hungarian Horntail. The Swedish Short-Snout. They refer back to either the physical characteristics of the beast, or its place of origin, or both. The names given to the dragons in the monster manuals are, by any objective standard, quite lame. Red, Black, Copper, Silver…

It occurred to me that, in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, one might have more interesting names for the standard dragon types in the monster manuals, based on their habitat, their images in the Monster Manual, and so forth. I give you:

The Dragon Types of the Flanaess

Black: Sunndi Proudhorn
Blue: Bright Desert Hornnose
Brass: Suloise Fanwing
Bronze: Almorian Arrowsnout
Copper: Crystalmist Curvehorn
Gold: Suhfang Serpentine
Green: Sussian Mossback
Red: Hellfurnaces Redbelly
Silver: Yatil Silverwing (aka “Cloudherder”)
White: Thillronian Fanhead

Naturally, though, as dragons of the Flanaess are sentient, they do not themselves use these by-names, but these more common appellations are used by humans, demi-humans, and humanoids (in their own tongues, of course), in everyday speech.

And, for the edification of those who might not have access to the 2E Monstrous Compendium, here is a very brief overview of the special abilities dragons possess:

Detect invisible creatures (10′ per age category).
Clairaudience in lair (20′ per age category).
Fear: 15-50 yards range as they get older, young adults cause fear in all >1 HD automatic panic for 4d6 rounds, others save vs. petrification or fight at -2 to hit and damage.
Snatch: young adults can grab victims (50% chance of pinning their arms), fly up and drop them. Automatic claw damage if you’re snatched.
Plummet: The dragon lands on some unfortunates, crushing for damage equal to its bite, getting between 1 and 12 people depending on its age.
Kick: Anyone in the rear hemisphere of the dragon can suffer claw damage and get knocked down (save vs. petrification).
Wing Buffet: Any target at the dragon’s side can be attacked by its wings, damage as claws, dex check to be knocked down.
Tail Slap: Adult and older dragons’ tails do 2x claw damage against a number of opponents equal to its age category; they are also stunned for 1d4+1 rounds.
Stall: If flying, the dragon can just stop in mid-air, attack with all 4 claws, and kick up dust that blinds and prevents spell casting for one round.

Also, their armor class gets better as they age (start improving by 1 AC after Juvenile) and they get +1 “to hit” per age category.

These things are most definitely not pushovers in my campaign. They will have you for breakfast unless you are very well prepared. Literally.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “Thinking About Dragons

  1. This fits my anglophile and bio nerd urges, on the other hand these are exactly like english bird names and somewhat below the grandeur I think dragon's should have.

  2. Joe, your dragon improvements are mostly just the standard upgrade that 2E gave this magnificent beasties. One thing 2E did right was give both dragons and giants powers consumerate with their legend. It amuses me with a 1E-or-die type whines that dragons are powerful enough in 1E, it's the fault of the lame crappy DM when an ancient red gets slapped around by a 9th level party. Good to know you're open to dragon improvement!!!

  3. I think the taxonomic quasi-whimsy could almost be chalked up to a "whistling past the graveyard" effect–I imagine humans who lived in a world with dragons'd be more inclined, psychologically, to want to think of something as a "proudhorn" or "mossback" rather than a "fleshmelter" or "breathburner". I like it.

    Myself, I am trying to give individual dragons personal names and stories they can declaim to any PCs unwary enough to stumble on them, before rending them into gibbets…

  4. I don't know, I kind of like referring to dragons as Red, White, Gold, etc.

    But then again, I also like referring to demons as Type 1 or Type 3 and I regret the passing of level names so YMMV.

  5. Um… i know this is a little late, but i just read your more recent dragon article which linked back to here. I would like to clarify something.

    You said "filling in the missing dragons article in Dragon #65, which gives us the evil Yellow, Orange, and Purple dragons (and which was ultimately revised for 3rd edition in Dragon #248)."

    However 3rd Edition Dragon didn't start officially till issue 274 & to my knowledge the first dragon issue to include stats for anything was two issues previous (off the top of my head).

    I think you may be talking about an article in issue #284 called "Return of the Greater Drakes." Though i may be wrong.

    Wow, if i didn't prove my geek creds with this post, i don't know what will. LOL

    I did love your article however.


  6. You're entirely correct, Matthew. I double-checked, and the article in Dragon 248 wasn't a 3E upgrade, but a 2E upgrade. My bad! I'll change the post accordingly.

Comments are closed.